Why Healthcare Providers Remove Cataracts

If you have cataracts, the first thing you may notice is a glare from oncoming headlights at night. Often a haze surrounds the lights.

Next, you're likely to find reading more challenging. It gets harder to see the letters, and they tend to blur together.

A cataract is a clouding of the eye's lens. The lens is a clear, soft structure behind the pupil that works much like a camera lens. The main cause of cataracts is aging. Other contributing factors include:

  • Genetics

  • Sunlight (ultraviolet or UV rays)

  • Diabetes

  • Some medicines, including longtime use of corticosteroids, such as cortisone or prednisone

  • Eye injury or surgery

  • Inflammation of the eye (uveitis)

  • Smoking

  • Radiation or chemotherapy treatment

When cataracts affect your ability to function, it's time to think about surgery.

Many people think surgeons take the cataract off the eye. Actually, the cloudy part of the lens is removed. Then a man-made clear lens, (intraocular lens or IOL), is implanted. This new lens has a prescription, much like eyeglasses. Still, you may need prescription glasses after surgery, especially for reading. 

Your ophthalmologist will discuss with you the risks and benefits of cataract surgery.

In most cases, people are given a relaxing medicine before surgery but stay awake throughout the procedure. Some surgeons give numbing injections around the eye. Or anesthetic drops can be used.

Once the anesthetic is working, the surgeon makes a cut (incision) in the eye to help remove the cataract and implant the new lens. The surgeon often uses ultrasound energy to liquefy and remove the cataract (phacoemulsification). The surgeon then removes the rest of the lens in a suction-like process called aspiration. Then the new lens is put in place. During the procedure, you may see light and movement but not feel pain.

The painless procedure takes about 15 to 30 minutes. Complex cases are not common. But they need more time and care.

If both eyes have cataracts, surgery is done on 1 eye at a time. The 2 procedures are usually done a few weeks apart. This is done to make sure that the first eye has healed without complications before doing surgery on the other eye. People go home the same day. They wear a patch or shield overnight to protect the eye. The eye is often checked the next day, a week after the surgery, and a month later. Your ophthalmologist will discuss with you how active you can be after surgery. They will let you know when you can safely resume driving, exercise, and other activities.

Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Susan K. Dempsey-Walls RN
Date Last Reviewed: 2/1/2024
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